Friday, March 12, 2010

Book Preview: Mice Don't Taste Like Chicken

Having just done a blog on book reviews, it seems a little strange to preview a book i.e. talk about a book that has yet to be printed and appear on the shelves. What are the benefits of a preview? Just like a movie trailer, a book preview excites reader interest (hopefully getting readers to mark their diaries as to publication date), and starts building up a following so that by the time the book hits the shelves, the author will enjoy something of a captive audience. Creating a count-down buzz also gets readers hyped and eager to purchase their copy. The Harry Potter series and Dan Brown’s The Lost Symbol marketing are prime examples of wildly successful countdowns. This works best if the author aims pre-publication publicity at the specific target market for the book. Pre-publication publicity is great for an author if they can garner professional reviews in advance to use as endorsements on the cover.

Do your kids like critters? They’re gonna love the collection of reptiles that populate Mr. Cross’s classroom. Mice Don’t Taste Like Chicken isn’t an average middle-grade novel. Neither is Mr. Cross an average middle-grade teacher, as Drew Harrington soon finds out. The rules are simple…

Welcome to Sixth-grade
1. Keep away from the animals! Violators will be prosecuted.
2. Unpack your bag and make your lunch choice.
3. Meet your neighbors.
4. Keep away from the animals! Violators will be prosecuted.

Sixth grade can be a zoo. Drew Harrington sure hopes so. He and his best friend, Jackson Harris, can’t wait to join Bridgeton Elementary’s legendary teacher, Mr. Cross, in a classroom inhabited by cantankerous lizards, elusive iguanas, and a 13-foot Burmese python named Prometheus. Cootie-proof Kim Etter, Tinkle Troy Schwartz, the social outcast with an overactive bladder, and perpetual grade-schooler Joe Riaz are among Drew's classmates. Will this year be as predictable as the past five? Or will this be the year that makes Drew realize mice don't taste like chicken?

I asked author Scott Heydt a few questions about this unusual book on life in the middle grade.

1. Why your choice of subject matter re: the critters?
Back in my elementary school years, I had a teacher who longed to work in the San Diego Zoo’s Reptile House. We cared for over one dozen different reptiles and amphibians in our sixth grade classroom. Our classroom contained more than a dozen reptiles and amphibians, ranging from a thirteen-inch long gecko to thirteen-foot long Burmese python (named Prometheus). Aside from the animal atmosphere, my teacher changed the way I perceived school. He read us controversial books, played basketball with us on Fridays, and showed passion for everything we learned. It served as the spark for my love of learning to this day. It was a life-altering experience. These creatures come from my fond memories of that year. Two years ago, I participated in a writing workshop called “Tator Tots and Technique.” The presenter challenged us to think back to our school days and write about our memories. The exercises I completed at that workshop became the seed for Mice Don’t Taste Like Chicken.

2. Can you give me your view of the parallel worlds between the kids’ life in the classroom and the world of reptiles they encounter, and what you hope kids will glean from reading your book?
My hope for readers is two-fold. One, that readers will value the strong bond formed between a teacher passionate about his profession and a boy who looks up to him. Second, that readers will appreciate the subtle differences between our behavior and that of animals. We are not so different, and what we learn from the care and observation of nature can help guide our own behavioral decisions.

3. Are any of the human characters or events based on your own life?
Characters come from the behaviors we observe in those around us. All of the human characters in Mice Don’t Taste Like Chicken are a blend of people I grew up with as well as some of my current students. Sure, some characters are based more on one real person than others, but I’ve changed those names to protect the innocent (or guilty).

4. If mice don’t taste like chicken, what do they taste like?
The next time I catch one, I’ll let you know.

5. If you could be any animal in the book, which one would you choose? Why?
I would choose to be Iggy. I can hang on the wires of my sprawling cage most of the day. When I’m hungry, I can climb down to munch on some lettuce leafs and vegetables. If anyone messes with me, I can smack him with my long tail. I’m also a great climber, so escaping and exploring is fun.

6. Your book is certainly very educational. Is there more teachers can do in the classroom with your book?
An interesting educational slant to the book is that activities are designed specifically for teachers by a certified teacher (i.e. me). My goal is to provide lessons fully developed with attached resources available so teachers can easily integrate Mice Don’t Taste Like Chicken into their Reading curriculum.)

Lesson plans include:
• Discussion Questions about Mice Don’t Taste Like Chicken e.g. Using websites provided within the “Mr. Cross’ Critters” link of http://www.micedonttastelikechicken.com/, groups of students will identify the natural habitat of the iguana, Burmese python, boa constrictor, gecko, salamander, Nile monitor, Savannah monitor, milk snake, toad, and painted turtle.
• Symbolism Overview
• Social Studies Lesson: “Control Your Inner Ozzie”
• Math Lesson: “Math Don’t Taste Like Chicken”
• Vocabulary Lesson: “Introducing & Activating Word Meanings”

Mice Don’t Taste Like Chicken is published by PM Moon Publishers and is scheduled for release summer 2010. Be sure to look out for it at all good book stores.

About the Author: Scott Heydt grew up in suburban Philadelphia and resides with his wife in Chalfont, Pennsylvania. With undergraduate degrees in Elementary Education and Psychology and a Masters in Leadership and Liberal Studies, Scott attributes his passion for and knowledge of writing to the great teachers who guided him in the past. Scott's website is http://www.scotthbooks.com/.

Mice Don’t Taste Like Chicken is Scott’s second novel for children. PM Moon Publishers, LLC awarded the book an honorable mention.
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